Heading into Sunday's 400-mile race at Pocono, Brad Keselowski is 10th in the rankings, while Jeff Gordon is just eight points behind in 11th. Keselowski, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion, and Gordon, a four-time titleholder in the series, have yet to win a race this season.
The current margin from eighth-place Kyle Busch to 13th-place Greg Biffle is 21 points. One year ago, nine of the 10 drivers who qualified for the Chase by points occupied a top-10 position entering the June race at Pocono.
With his victory this past Sunday at Dover, Tony Stewart moved from 20th to 16th in points. Stewart is now the wild card leader since he is the only driver 11th-20th that has a win this season. Gordon occupies the second wild card. He moved up four positions in the standings with his third-place finish at Dover.
"It's certainly a great feeling," Gordon said. "We have been running good. We just have had some things happen to us, kind of like last year, some self- inflicted and some things out of our hands. We have just got to fight ... That's what got us in the Chase last year, and that's what is going to get us in there this year."
Gordon's victory in the rain-shortened race at Pocono last August helped him earn the final wild card spot for the 2012 Chase. It was the seventh year in a row that he made the playoffs. Gordon also collected his record sixth win at Pocono 10 months ago. He is the all-time lap leader at this 2.5-mile triangular racetrack as well with 965.
"Pocono is a unique track," he said. "You can go out there thinking you're pushing hard and be a second off the pace. It's a track where a lot of speed can be lost or gained based on how hard you push it. Finding the edge and the limits is a little bit tougher on such a big race track with three unique corners. The tunnel turn (2) has always been one of the most hair-raising experiences on our schedule. It takes full commitment. When you hit it right, it's a beautiful thing."
Gordon recorded his 301st career top-five finish at Dover, tying David Pearson for third on the all-time top-five list in NASCAR's premier series. He has scored 18 top-fives and 28 top-10s in 40 starts at Pocono.
Keselowski turned his season back in the right direction with a fifth-place run at Dover. He had finished 15th or worse in the four races during the month of May. After holding the points lead following the March 17 event at Bristol, Keselowski had gradually fallen in the rankings.
"I thought we came out of the gate really strong with top-five (finishes) in the first few races and having a shot of winning probably six or seven of the first 10 races," Keselowski said. "But we ran through a little bit of a road bump through the month of May, and that was definitely a little bit tough to go through. I think we're going to come out of it stronger.
"We've kind of backslid from leading the points to 10th in the last month or two, which has been frustrating. But we think we've got our fingers on what it will take to get back up there and hopefully get a win or two here."
Earlier this week, Keselowski's No. 2 Penske Racing team was hit with its second penalty by NASCAR this season. His car failed post-race inspection at Dover when officials discovered the front end was too low. He received a loss of six points, which dropped him two spots in the standings. Crew chief Paul Wolfe was fined $25,000, and Roger Penske was docked six car owner points.
Penske officials noted that Keselowski's car "experienced a part failure," which resulted in it failing post-race inspection.
"I would like to see, maybe not short-term but long-term vision of the sport, where we just accept the fact that the cars race at a different state than what they go through during inspection," Keselowski said. "That would make it a lot easier on everybody, including NASCAR. That's not the current rule. Per the current rules, we were wrong, and that responsibility is on us."
In April, Keselowski lost 25 points and several members of his team were suspended from NASCAR competition after officials found illegal parts on his car prior to the start of the 500-mile event at Texas. Wolfe, car chief Jerry Kelley, team engineer Brian Wilson and team manager Travis Geisler were originally suspended for six points-paying races, but that suspension period was reduced to two races when Penske made its final appeal last month.
Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Party in the Poconos 400.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, June 9. Race: Party in the Poconos 400. Site: Pocono Raceway. Track: 2.5-mile triangular oval. Start time: 1 p.m. ET. Laps: 160. Miles: 400. 2012 Winner: Joey Logano. Television: TNT. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.